Lawsuit: Fremont County jail withheld medicine, caused inmate’s death

The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office also withheld crucial information on inmate’s death, a lawsuit says

A Fremont County jail inmate suffered psychotic delusions and physical abuse by deputies before being found naked and dead on his cell floor in April 2014, according to a federal lawsuit.

John Patrick Walter’s death is the fault of Fremont County Sheriff James Beicker and more than two dozen deputies and staff members, and the doctors, nurses and health care companies contracted to provide inmate health care, the lawsuit said. It also said the sheriff’s office withheld information, including jail video footage, surrounding Walter’s death investigation from the county coroner and Walter’s family.

“The conditions in which Mr. Walter was confined were inhumane in the extreme, beyond all bounds of human decency, and in violation of his constitutional rights,” the lawsuit said.

The 53-year-old Walter suffered severe withdrawals when the sheriff’s office and medical providers failed to give him the prescription drug Klonopin, a powerful anti-anxiety medication, and methadone, which is used to treat opioid addiction, according to the Thursday filing in U.S. District Court of Colorado.

Efforts to reach Beicker were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for Correct Care Solutions LLC, a Nashville-based company named in the lawsuit, said its legal department had not been served with the complaint.

Walter was booked into the Fremont County Detention Center on charges of first-degree assault, felony menacing and reckless endangerment. He filled out medical forms detailing his prescription and gave the staff bottles of his medication, the lawsuit said.

Medical guidance for the drug warns about abruptly cutting off users because the withdrawal symptoms can be so severe, the lawsuit said. But medical providers and the jail staff did not consult with Walter’s doctors or pharmacist about his history with the drug.

After the drug was cut off, Walter lost 30 pounds in two weeks and began suffering problems such as gastrointestinal distress, incontinence, disorientation, bizarre behavior, insomnia, paranoia and hallucinations among other physical and mental issues, according to the lawsuit.

When Walter was booked on April 3, 2014, he was able to fill out forms, including the correct date. Yet, two weeks later, he thought it was February and that he was housed in a community hospital.

As his condition deteriorated, Walter did not sleep, paced in his cell and sometimes yelled while rolling on the floor naked.

“Mr. Walter’s psychotic break was so profound that he was often heard screaming and seen kicking, punching and clawing at the walls and door in an apparent effort to escape imaginary people in his cell,” the lawsuit said.

Because of his mental state, Walter was not able to respond to commands or orders from the jail staff. But deputies used his noncompliance to justify use of force, the lawsuit said.

Deputies used pepper spray, electric shocks from stun guns, physical force and strapping him in a restraint chair, the lawsuit said.

During Walter’s autopsy, the coroner reported that he had broken ribs, internal bleeding and severe bruising. The lawsuit blames those injuries on excessive force.

Walter also had injuries to his hands, fingers, feet and toes that may have been self-inflicted during his psychosis, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Walter’s estate, with his sister, Desiree’ Y. Klodnicki, as the special administrator. The estate is asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

Noelle Phillips: 303-954-1661, nphillips@ or @Noelle_Phillips

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.